I read a LOT. I attend a LOT of conferences. I participate in a LOT of webinars. And I watch five hours of medical “summit” presentations weekly. That’s a LOT of life-saving information that passes into (and sometimes out of!) my mind on a continuous basis.
Unfortunately, when it comes to incorporating all of this information into my practice, the only patients who benefit are often those who are sitting right in front of me. So I’m grateful for the opportunity to share some of what I have learned with everyone at once periodically through our blog.
With that said, when I read about yet another cholesterol drug study this afternoon, I couldn’t resist passing the results on to you. It’s really not news. It’s just that increasing numbers of studies are coming to the same conclusion, so even mainstream doctors can no longer ignore it:
You can think you are reducing your heart attack risk, but in reality you are raising your risks of a lot of other problems, including diabetes.
The reason I say think is because you are artificially lowering a number on a lab test report, not actually lowering your risk of a heart attack…unless you already have heart disease. In that case, statins have been shown to decrease the risk of experiencing a second heart attack.
But the studies demonstrate that, for the majority of us, the only reason to take these drugs is to fatten the pockets of those who manufacture and sell them. Statin drugs increase diabetes by anywhere from 17-51%, depending on the study design and the particular population studied. What is stunning is that the researchers who report such findings still claim that the benefits of statins outweigh the risks, so doctors should not be deterred in writing that prescription for every adult in America.
So let me get this straight: Statins have been shown to increase diabetes, heart failure, depression, muscle damage, kidney damage, liver damage, cognitive problems, memory loss, cataracts, and sexual dysfunction, while decreasing critical coenzyme Q-10, ketone bodies, and testosterone…but the experts tell us that practically every adult in America should be taking them? Am I the only one who doesn’t see the logic?
Perhaps the answer lies in who funded these studies: A bunch of pharmaceutical companies and national organizations boarded by doctors and others who are funded by…drug companies!
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not against drugs. I’m just pro health. If a drug can help you achieve optimal health better, safer, and cheaper than something else, I’m all for it. Especially if the evidence presented regarding its benefits and risks isn’t funded by the drug company itself, or by a front group funded by the drug company.
Moreover, I’m not telling anyone to stop taking their statin drug. That’s a decision you need to make in consultation with your doctor, taking into account your specific medical circumstances.
But if you’re not already taking one of these drugs and your doctor tells you that you need to do so in order to get your cholesterol down, consider the following:
Cholesterol is an essential part of the membrane (think of it as a type of skin) covering every cell in the body. Without cholesterol, you and I don’t exist.
I’m not saying cholesterol drugs eliminate these hormones. Rather, they reduce your body’s supply of the cholesterol necessary to make them. And my point is that cholesterol is not our enemy. Our enemy is our own ignorance of what cholesterol does for us and how it operates.
By now you are wondering what to do to improve your cardiovascular risk, if a drug isn’t the answer. First of all, you need to make sure you are looking at the right numbers. If your doctor is only checking four numbers—total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL, and LDL—then he knows little more about your heart attack risk than he did before your blood draw.
According to cardiologist Dr. Mark Houston, Director of the Hypertension Institute at Vanderbilt, the medical literature has documented over 400 risk factors for vascular disease. Those four numbers I mentioned above—known as the “standard lipid panel”—are far from the top of the list in importance. In our offices, we routinely test 30 of the most important risk factors.
Once we have determined that you really do have a cholesterol problem, the next step is to figure out what is the best approach to fixing it.
For most people, the answer is dietary changes…and weight loss if they have any fat they don’t need. The fats we should be eating more of—like omega-3 fatty acids (think wild-caught salmon) and medium-chain triglycerides (think coconut oil)—are life-saving.
But the fat our body makes from sugar is actually a highly inflammatory organ (yes, an organ)…especially the fat that prevents you from seeing your toes when you look down. That’s right: If you have anything hanging over your belt, you don’t need a blood test to tell you that you are at significant risk of a heart attack or stroke.
But wait: At this point, some patients tell me that “bad” cholesterol runs in their family, so it is pre-determined. The natural conclusion is that they need a drug to fight against some bad gene they inherited from their parents.
This is a cop out. Let’s check your cholesterol again when 1) you have achieved your optimal lean body mass, 2) you are following a non-inflammatory diet (which will be different for different people), and 3) you are rid of hidden infections (teeth, jaws, and intestines are perfect hideouts for bad bugs).
If your cholesterol is still bad, then we can talk about blaming your parents for it. Until then, we have some work to do. Besides, even those (very) few who truly have inherited sky-high LDL particles and triglycerides can lower them significantly with lifestyle intervention before resorting to pills.
Anyway, let me illustrate my point by telling you about two of my patients:
During his annual checkup, John was told by his doctor that his cholesterol was too high and he needed to take a statin drug. He protested, “Can’t I just change my diet?” “No, that won’t work.” John had a statin deficiency, and that was that. He looked up studies published about statins and cholesterol and determined that the evidence in favor of him using the drugs just wasn’t there. This was especially apparent when he looked specifically at the studies that were not funded by drug companies. His doctor—informed by the same experts who teach all of us in American medical schools—was genuinely worried that John would be at serious risk if he didn’t treat his statin deficiency.
Undeterred, John changed his diet. When he returned to recheck his cholesterol, his doctor congratulated him because it was normal. “How did you do it?” he asked. “Changed my diet. Why did you tell me that changing my diet wouldn’t work?” “Because nobody does it,” his doctor replied.
Mary wanted to improve her health, too. When she came to me, everything was abnormal. She was clinically obese. All her tests demonstrated that she was getting scarily close to diabetes. Her blood pressure was high. Her advanced cholesterol profile was not pretty. She had excessive inflammation. The body can only tolerate all of these insults so long before serious damage occurs. At age 45, she was on the road to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and much more.
Mary did not like that road. She decided to get on the off ramp and turn around. She changed her diet and lost 30 lbs. All of her tests were back to normal within 3 months, and she’s lost another 15 lbs since then.
I have seen many cases just like John and Mary’s. Mind you, not every case is as simple as theirs were. Some require more investigation and other interventions. Some will require pills. Not pills that block the liver from doing its job of making cholesterol, but pills that address whatever is or might be causing the elevation.
But the majority of us will find that following a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight lead to dramatic improvements, not only in cholesterol, but in many of the other vascular disease risk factors.
This is why I love our health coaching program so much. Rather than giving patients another pill for every metabolic condition, we can often eliminate quite a few of those conditions simply by changing our diets and losing weight. Believe me—I see it every day. And there is nothing more rewarding than helping patients get healthy and stop taking pills rather than watching them get sicker over the years and adding pills.
If you’ve been told your cholesterol is abnormal, be sure to have your doctor check an advanced cardiometabolic panel, along with all the heart-essential hormones. Advanced cardiometabolic panels are available through specialty labs and are covered by insurance. If your doctor doesn’t have an account with a specialty lab, or doesn’t know what to do with all the test results he has never heard of, call us and we can draw your blood in the office.
Then talk to one of our health coaches. You might just save your heart—and save yourself a host of unintended consequences from a drug you don’t need in the first place.
Always looking after your health,
Ray Andrew, MD